In Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, love has been diagnosed as a disease, and everyone is required to undergo the cure when they turn eighteen. When I first heard the premise, my cynical brain immediately thought it was brilliant. No more Eponine-style romances for me! Thing is, the procedure doesn’t just kill off romantic love. My sister, who also read this book, called it practically a lobotomy, and that’s what it is: the doctors surgically remove every last bit of passion. You will never been heartbroken, but you will also view your friends and children with cold logic (you’ll give your baby milk because he’s hungry and needs food to live, not because you can’t stand to see him cry). You will no longer feel depressed, but you will also never enjoy your hobbies with as much fervour as before. Hana, the best friend of protagonist Lena, tells her early on, “You know you can’t be happy unless you’re unhappy sometimes, right?” And it’s true. Cliches aside, if you remove all violent emotion, you’ll have to remove the good with the bad.
Unlike Hana, however, Lena can’t wait for the procedure. When she was very young, her mother committed suicide because she was too infected by amor deliria nervosa to be cured. All Lena can remember is her mother laughing and dancing with her (then immediately checking to see if anyone had noticed; too much laughter after all is a symptom of delirium) and her mother fiercely telling her, “I love you. Remember. They cannot take it.” Lena is heartbroken by her mother’s death, and looks forward to being cured and freed from all that pain. I love that the heroine begins the novel looking forward to the procedure, and horrified whenever Hana makes negative comments about it. My natural reaction, once I found out the procedure destroyed all passion and not just romantic love, was to wonder how anyone could think that was a good idea. Lena’s desire to forget a completely different kind of pain made sense to me, and showed me how this procedure could be seen as a good thing, even by intelligent, non-brainwashed-drone individuals like Lena.
But Lena falls in love. Only three months before her procedure, she meets a boy named Alex, who has the scars of the cured, but whom Lena saw laughing when something messes up an evaluation interview. I love how she falls in love with him not just because of his good looks (though he is hot), but because of the tremor of laughter in his voice, and the constant look of amusement in his eyes. In a world where serenity is prized and passion is feared, happiness is enticing. Alex too, it turns out, first develops a crush on Lena when he sees her acting silly during a run — as Lena discovers during class picture day, even her ordinary looks are transformed into great beauty when she’s really happy. It’s wonderful seeing this tale from Lena’s perspective — I worry with her when Hana sneaks off to attend an underground party (with real music! Not the government regulated chipper tunes!), I feel for her whenever she remembers her mom, and I get just as giddy as she does whenever she meets up with Alex. She still worries about ending up like her mother, and I love what Alex tells her about the downside of the cure: “That’s when you really lose people, you know. When the pain passes.” I think of when my grandfather died, how my biggest fear is forgetting how he looks, or how he sounds. Pain sucks, but Alex is right; pain also keeps the past alive.
As you can probably tell, I love this book. It’s an emotional ride, which reminds me of how repressing emotions actually ends up making them burst out even more violently. I love how it goes beyond just a romance, and deals with the value of passion in so many things — friendship, family, music, hobbies, and yes, love.
I remember how violently I felt about things when I was younger, and how much more practical I am today. I remember how, when I was young, an older cousin told me never to fall in love, because it hurt too much, and I remember how I, fuelled by Disney movies mostly, vowed never ever to turn away from love, because I’d rather be hurt than block myself from feeling. I remember changing my mind later on, and chalking it up to maturity. Delirium is about a surgical procedure that removes strong emotions, but I wonder, though not as extreme, do we all subject ourselves to a similar procedure in the name of growing up?
This book will make you believe in love again. At the very least, it will make you realize why numbing yourself against pain, while tempting, can never work in the long term. Delirium ends with a bang, which actually reminded me of a Le Carre novel (I can’t say which, as that would totally be a spoiler). It’s a wonderful, exciting book that I hope will touch you like it has touched me.
By the way, if you plan on getting this book (as you should!), just to let you know, I found out on the Harper Collins Canada website that Delirium: The Special Edition will be published July 20, 2011. It’ll have new cover art, a Q&A with author Lauren Oliver and an exclusive excerpt from her next book! Pretty cool, eh? (Thanks to Harper Collins Canada’s Savvy Reader for letting me know details about Delirium: The Special Edition!)